This coming weekend will mark the 45th Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show, an event that first-year director Kerry Royer says is “part of the fabric of the community.”
On Saturday and Sunday, August 17 and 18, 260 exhibitors from across the country, almost 30% of whom are new to the show, will fill booths on the sylvan Pennsylvania Chautauqua grounds. 12 of the newcomers will be displaying their work publicly for the first time ever.
Some things about the Gretna show never seem to change. Potters, painters, and photographers have been showing their work to strolling fair goers on Mt. Gretna’s tree-lined streets since the first show in 1974. But this year, for the first time ever, artists will also line a closed Route 117, the main street through the borough.
The Chautaqua’s recent purchase of nearby Soldier’s Field now allows it to be used for parking, eliminating the previous system of shuttle buses to and from nearby Philhaven Hospital, in turn allowing Route 117 to become a pedestrian boulevard. Fair goers will be able to walk from their cars to the main gate on Route 117.
Another Gretna tradition is first-rate artists showing original work. Royer said that’s largely because it’s a “juried show.”
Each year in April, artists submit applications and samples of their work to a three person jury for evaluation. The jury selects only the best. This year about 500 artists applied for 260 spots. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve “made” the show in previous years. Everyone, rookie and veteran, starts from scratch.
Pam Cummings, a Harrisburg potter, has been a part of the show for “20 or 21 years, I forget exactly.” But she still nervously waits for a letter from the jury each May. “Every year when I open that envelope, it’s ‘Oh, thank goodness! I made it!'”
And while the juried system for picking artists is a mainstay at Gretna, jury members change each year, assuring new perspectives and a roster of artists that blends old and new, traditional and innovative.
New Cumberland landscape painter Nathanael Carrol, who will be exhibiting for the 5th year, thinks this is a big plus. He says the 30% of this year’s artists who will be first-timers is a result of “not the same people picking every year.”
“Shows can get into a real, stale funk, catering to the same artists every year.”
Cummings and Carroll agree that quality artists draw a quality audience. “People who come to Gretna are well-informed and expect to find well-evolved, mature work,” said Cummings. “They know it’s going to be worth spending a day at Gretna.”
Royer says that talented young people are essential to the show if it’s to be around for another 45 years. They’re doing something about that, too.
Lebanon photographer Shannon Fretz is one of the 12 “Emerging Artists” at this year’s show who will be presenting their work to the public for the very first time. She’s getting free space to launch her career, and is grateful for the opportunity to exhibit alongside established artists.
“This is definitely an opportunity to see the response my work gets from an audience,” Fretz said. “I get to explain what is in my head and why I do it.”
No summertime outdoor event in Lebanon County would be complete without food and drink. Here too, this year’s show will feature new alongside old.
Past show director Linda Bell dropped traditional fair food – hot dogs, cotton candy, and so forth – years ago, and since then local restaurants and caterers have provided top notch fair. Now, “the food is as good as the art,” says Bell.
This year, patrons of the arts will be able to dine at Urban Olive, Hess’s Barbecue Catering, Gosia’s Pierogies, What If … Hershey, The Hershey Pantry and Red Canoe Coffee.
Local restaurants The Jigger Shop, Porch & Pantry, Mt. Gretna Pizzeria, and the Mt. Gretna Hideaway will also be open.
And for the first time ever, fair goers will be able to enjoy wine and beer on the grounds, courtesy of the Mt. Gretna Craft Brewery, which will set up in the Chautauqua’s Hall of Philosophy.
Proceeds from the Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show benefit a number of Chautauqua and community programs, including the Mt. Gretna Fire Company and the borough’s fire hydrants.
If you’re going to the Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show:
WHEN: Saturday, August 17, 2019, 9 am to 6 pm. Sunday, August 18, 2019, 9 am to 5 pm. Both days rain or shine.
WHERE: Route 117 and the streets of the Chautauqua section of Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania. Admission gates can be found at PA-117 & Princeton Ave (main gate), Princeton Avenue South, and the Corner of Lehigh & Pennsylvania Avenues.
PARKING: All parking will be in Soldiers Field off of Timber Road in Mount Gretna.
ADMISSION: $12.00. Children under 12 are free.